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Ambient Computing for lawyers

In our previous article, we discussed ambient computing: what it is, and what the benefits and challenges are. In this article we discuss what the relevance of ambient computing is for lawyers. We look at ambient law, which deals with the legal aspects of ambient computing. Then we ask ourselves, “what are the benefits of ambient computing for lawyers?”, and “what are the challenges?”. But first we start with a short recap on what ambient computing is.

A short recap: what is ambient computing?

In our previous article, we explained that “ambient computing is the idea of embedding computing power into everyday objects and environments, to make them smart, connected, and responsive. The goal is to make it easier for users to take full advantage of technology without having to worry about the details. (…) Ambient computing relies on a variety of technologies, such as sensors, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, voice recognition, gesture control, and wearable devices, to create a seamless and personalized user experience. Ambient computing devices are designed to be unobtrusive and blend into the background, so that users can focus on their tasks and goals rather than on the technology itself.” As such, the concept of ambient computing is closely related to the concept of the Internet of Things.

Examples of ambient computing technology are found in smart homes, cars, business premises, as well as other domains, such as health care, education, entertainment, and transportation, etc.

So, now that we know what ambient computing is, we can focus on the next question: what does ambient computing mean for lawyers and the legal profession? Three items come to mind: what are the legal aspects of ambient computing? What are the benefits for lawyers? What are the risks and challenges for lawyers?

Ambient Law: the legal aspects of ambient computing

When the Internet of Things was starting to take form, the term ambient law was introduced to refer to the legal aspects of using ambient technology. There are four main areas where legal issue can arise, and we can pair them in two sets of two. On the one hand, there is data privacy and security. On the other hand, there is liability and accountability.

Data Privacy and Security

Ambient computing involves collecting, processing, and sharing large amounts of personal and sensitive data from various sources and devices, which raises significant privacy and security concerns.

Privacy: In our previous article we wrote that ambient computing collects vast amounts of data about users’ behaviour, preferences, location, health, and more. This data can be used for beneficial purposes, such as improving services and personalization. But it can also be misused or compromised by malicious actors or third parties. Or they can be sold to third parties, often without the users’ knowledge or consent. Many car manufacturers, e.g., are guilty of this.

In this context, it is worth referring to the SWAMI project, which stands for Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence. This project took a precautionary approach in its exploration of the privacy risks in Ambient Intelligence (AmI) and sought ways to reduce those risks.

The project discovered that several “dark scenarios” where possible that would have negative implications for privacy protection. It identified various threats and vulnerabilities. Legal analysis of these scenarios also showed there are shortcomings in the current legal framework and that the current legislation cannot provide adequate privacy protection in the AmI environment.

The Project concluded that a new approach to privacy and data protection is needed, based on control and responsibility rather than on restriction and prohibition.

Security: Again, there are several aspects to the security side of ambient computing. On the one hand, all the personal data it collects must be protected. Another side is that in essence each new ambient device increases the security risk. Ambient technologies can expose users’ devices and data to cyberattacks or physical tampering. This can compromise users’ safety and functionality of their devices. Cars and baby monitors, e.g., appear to be easy targets for hackers.

There have been initiatives already to tackle the possible security risks inherent in ambient computing. Relevant data security laws generally focus on data protection, cybersecurity, cross-border data transfers, the rights of the data subject, and on penalties for non-compliance.

Liability and accountability

The other two aspects are legal liability and accountability: Ambient computing involves delegating some decisions and actions to autonomous agents or systems that may not be fully transparent or predictable. This raises questions about who is responsible and liable for the outcomes or consequences of those decisions or actions, especially when they cause harm or damage to others. (In a previous article, we looked at robot law and looked at who would be responsible for a robot’s actions: is it the robot, the owner, or the manufacturer?)

As we are dealing with new technologies that are literally all around us, legal liability and accountability in ambient computing are complex issues.

What are the benefits of ambient computing for lawyers?

In our previous article, we highlighted some general benefits of ambient computing. These include convenience, efficiency, engagement, and empowerment. More specifically for lawyers, ambient computing can offer three groups of benefits.

A first set of benefits has to do with improving productivity and efficiency. Ambient computing technology can automate and streamline many routine tasks and processes that lawyers perform. Some law firm management software can already be voice controlled and work together with artificial assistants. (Our article on virtual legal assistants discusses this, too).

Ambient computing can also enhance client experience and satisfaction. It can enable lawyers to provide more personalized, responsive, and proactive service to their clients, by leveraging data and insights from various sources and devices.

Finally, ambient computing can open up new business models and opportunities. It can create new types of services, products, and platforms that leverage ambient intelligence and connectivity.

What are the challenges?

Ambient computing also poses some challenges and risks for lawyers, including the ones we already mentioned above when talking about ambient law.

When it comes to protecting data privacy and security, lawyers have a duty to protect the confidentiality and integrity of their clients’ data, as well as their own data. Therefore, they need to ensure that they comply with the applicable laws and regulations on data protection, such as the GDPR. They also must make sure their ambient technology complies with the ethical standards and best practices of their profession. Furthermore, they need to be aware of the potential threats and vulnerabilities that ambient computing introduces, such as data breaches, cyberattacks, unauthorized access, etc., and take appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate them.

For lawyers, too, there are aspects of legal liability and accountability. Ambient computing involves delegating some decisions and actions to autonomous agents or systems that may not be fully transparent or predictable. This raises questions about who is responsible and liable for the outcomes or consequences of those decisions or actions, especially when they cause harm or damage to others. Lawyers need to understand the legal implications and risks of using ambient computing in their practice or advising their clients on it. They also need to ensure that they have adequate contracts, policies, insurance, etc., to cover any potential liability or claims that may arise from ambient computing.

Finally, ambient computing may force lawyers to adapt to changing roles and skills. Ambient computing may disrupt or transform some aspects of the legal profession or industry, by creating new demands or expectations from clients or stakeholders. Lawyers need to be prepared to adapt to these changes and embrace new roles and skills that ambient computing requires or enables. For example, they may need to become more tech-savvy or data-driven, collaborate more with other professionals or disciplines, or specialize in new areas or domains related to ambient computing.


Ambient computing is an emerging trend that has significant implications for lawyers and the legal profession. Ambient computing can offer many benefits for lawyers who want to improve their practice and service delivery. However, it also poses some challenges and risks that lawyers need to address carefully. Lawyers who want to embrace ambient computing need to be aware of the legal and regulatory aspects of ambient computing in their jurisdiction or context. They also need to be proactive in learning and adopting the best practices and tools that ambient computing provides or demands.